April 29, 2009

Having Plan B or is it really Plan F - Increasing productivity by advance planning

Years ago, one of my great life lessons in working in luxury retailing was in working with some sharp cookies in the company. I learned a lot from them about successful business execution. One area that has stuck with me was how they approached strategic planning in the business.

They never were without a second level of planning on how to deal with challenges that constantly arise in retail. While I would be content with the “Carl” A-plan and believe that was enough, they always were thinking the “what-if” the plan A did not work. I saw this of most value when negotiating with vendors. By anticipating what might go wrong, and by being prepared, many of the agreements we signed served our companies well. Yes, as a lifelong optimist, I wanted the new vendor launch or promotion to do well, but if conditions changed and the promotion did not do well, what then.

Later, as Director of Epicure at Neiman Marcus, I launched a major international food event centered on Italian cuisine. The buyers had gone to Italy and bought well. We had everything in place to be a winner. I left on a seven city promotional tour on a clear October Monday in 1987 and in route discovered that the infamous 1987 stock market collapse had just hit. Thankfully we had developed some unused promotional strategies which then became extremely valuable in the relaunch and ended the promotion in a great financial position despite the global issues. One thing I discovered is that customers will often buy gourmet foods in tough times as it is one of the affordable “feel-good” luxuries. Just like moviegoers in the 30’s adored screwball comedies and Busby Berkley musicals because they were “feel-good” luxuries. In times of economic downturn sometimes a good laugh, a good tune or a good gourmet meal can do the most good for a healthy mental outlook.

Just so in our life today. I see in many coaching clients the same reliance on the “one plan “ approach whether for advanced education, career planning or even life itself, not that I am recommending a backup plan for marriage. But rather, by building a strategic way of thinking of how others might respond to the tasks in front of us we bring valuable skills to our work.

What does this have to do with personal productivity???? In my review, can see how effectively our companies could respond to unforeseen issues through productive advance thinking. I have also discovered in business planning as in writing books, as Sam Horn the writing coach once advised me, “No word that you have written is ever wasted”.

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